NHL: Sergei Bobrovsky, Panthers stymie Oilers to take Game 1

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Even though they were blanked in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, the Edmonton Oilers aren’t about to lose faith in themselves.

Edmonton couldn’t find a way to solve Florida Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and fell 3-0 in Sunrise, Fla., on Saturday night in the opener of finals, but the Oilers still managed to take some positives out of the setback.

“Maybe it was the hockey gods getting us back for that Game 6 (victory against the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference finals) where we probably didn’t deserve to win,” Edmonton captain Connor McDavid said. “Tonight, maybe we deserved at least one goal, maybe two goals, and we don’t find a way to get them. I know this group will stick with it and bounce back. That’s what we take a lot of pride in doing.”

Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is scheduled for Monday night in Sunrise.

If the Oilers want to level the series, they will have to find a way to break through against Bobrovsky, who finished with 32 saves on Saturday. It was his second shutout of the postseason.

Carter Verhaeghe, Evan Rodrigues and Eetu Luostarinen were the offensive heroes with a goal apiece, but the game’s biggest story was Bobrovsky.

Bobrovsky set the tone with first-period breakaway saves on Adam Henrique and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and he then denied Mattias Janmark’s open look in the second.

“Incredible,” Florida forward Sam Bennett told NHL Network, referring to Bobrovsky. “We have so much belief, and he gives us so much energy back there. It’s amazing to watch him perform in net. He’s been a star all year long.”

At the other end of the ice, Verhaeghe converted his team’s first shot of the game for his 10th goal of the playoffs at 3:59 of the first period. Rodrigues doubled the lead at 2:16 of the second, and Luostarinen potted an empty-net goal in the final seconds of regulation.

Stuart Skinner stopped 15 shots for the Oilers, who were blanked for the first time during the 2024 postseason.

“I think if we play like that, we’re gonna be fine,” Edmonton forward Zach Hyman said. “The key to our game is skating, forechecking, hanging on to pucks in the offensive zone, making plays, and for a large part of that game, we were the team that was pushing.”

Florida’s other shutout during this year’s playoffs came in the opener of the Eastern Conference finals against the New York Rangers, a series the Panthers won in six games.

Aleksander Barkov collected two assists for Florida, which has held opponents to two goals or fewer in 11 of its past 12 games.

The Panthers are in the finals for the third time in franchise history and have reached this stage of the playoffs two years in a row. In 2023, Florida watched the Vegas Golden Knights lift the Stanley Cup after losing in five games.

Vegas had home-ice advantage in that series.

“It’s a lot different (from last year), especially being at home,” Verhaeghe told Sportsnet. “Staying at home and hanging out with the guys was huge. I think we were ready coming into it this time. We were a little beat up last year, and I think we have more confidence this year.”

–Field Level Media

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